Show of support for buddy reveals disease
Updated: July 2, 2012 8:39AM
Last spring Marco Di Silvestro of Norridge had the idea to shave his head.
A second-grade classmate of his at Mary, Seat of Wisdom School in Park Ridge had cancer and he wanted to show his support.
So parents Steve and Jenny gave Marco the OK to buzz off his hair. And that’s when they noticed for the first time a dime-sized bald spot on his head.
By the end of May 2011, four more hairless spots appeared. Marco lost all his hair in June and, at the end of July, his eyebrows and eyelashes were gone, too.
A dermatologist determined Marco, who turns 9-years-old next month, has alopecia areata, a medical condition that causes balding and hair loss.
The incurable disease is not contagious though it is believed to be hereditary. Steve suspects the family’s Italian heritage may cause them to have a genetic predisposition to the disease, as they have history of other autoimmune disorders like thyroid disease.
“He’s basically allergic to his own hair,” Steve said of the oldest of the Di Silvestro’s three kids.
Marco and his family have taken the life-altering condition in stride and on Sunday, this couldn’t be less true.
More than 300 athletes, parents, teachers and kids joined the Di Silvestros on May 20 at Ridgewood High School for Rotary Interact’s first 5K Run/Walk to benefit the National Alopecia Areata Foundation.
Temperatures had reached the low-80s by the race’s 9:30 a.m. start but that didn’t prevent the all-age crowd from pounding the pavement through Norridge’s neighborhood streets.
“This is amazing,” Ridgewood Superintendent Robert Lupo said of the turnout, which included power walkers like Norridge Mayor Ronald Oppedisano and his wife Linda.
Family and friends of those who live with alopecia areata came to show their support.
Two teams of 30 adults and children sported special orange shirts for two young girls with the disease.
Cliff and Kim Siok, of Montgomery, attended as part of “Syd’s Squad.” Kim teaches the second-grader with alopecia areata at Grande Reserve Elementary School in Yorkville. Her husband, Cliff, has lived with the same condition for the past 25 years.
Former District 234 school board member Bill Hinman manned a popcorn machine at the event. The Norridge resident said he lost all his hair to the disease when he was 18 years old.
Now weighing in at 300-plus pounds and standing above 6-feet, he said his baldhead isn’t that out of the ordinary. In fact, he’s embraced it.
“I wore the Mr. Clean earring for Halloween a few times,” Hinman said.
Keeping a positive attitude is how the Di Silvestros are coping with their son’s relatively-new condition.
When kids tease or ask about his missing eyebrows, Marco replies with, “I don’t want them,” his father said.
“He’s solid and strong,” Steve added. “He’s very comfortable in his own skin.”
He said coping with Marco’s disease has been hardest for him and his wife, as they worry about the young boy’s self-esteem.
“We felt that we had to show him support and stay positive,” Steve said. “But he’s healthy and social and it doesn’t bother him.”
Steve said it helps Marco is tall for his age and that he has always surrounded himself with friends.
“He has never cried,” he said.
The Di Silvestros get advice from a group called Children’s Alopecia Project.
Steve said he has spent hours over the past year talking on the phone with its founder Jeff Woytovich of Pennsylvania. One important message he took away from their conversations, he said, is that sometimes kids have a bad day at school regardless of their disease.
Marco has undergone four separate treatments at this point – including topical ointments and laser treatments – though nothing has worked.
Still they haven’t lost hope for their third-grade son.
“As parents we still have to try,” Steve said. “I pray.”